Sky Without Stars, System Divine #1 by Joanne Rendell & Jessica Brody

Sky Without Stars - Joanne Rendell, Jessica Brody

If you read just one dystopian teen novel based on 'Les Misérables' make sure it's this one. No, but really, this turned out much better than I expected it to. The authors reinvent the core narrative of Hugo's novel into the tribulated teen romance genre and launches what could be a very interesting new series.


The planet Laterre is part of the System Divine, a three-sun solar system surrounded by 12 inhabitable planets. It was discovered and settled by ships that had fled from the First World which had been, or was about to be, made inhabitable. The ships carried with them colonists, technology, supplies and many backwards ideas of how to settle a new planet. Laterre holds the descendants of the French whose leadership set up an Ancien Régime similar to that of France before the Revolution. The First Estate is headed by the Patriarch and his family and live in a grand palace, the Second Estate is made up of fortunate families who live in comfort and ease and support the system by policing or running factories, or exploits. They make up about 5% of the population. The rest, the Third Estate, are downtrodden and forced to live in squalid poverty held in check by the oppressive regime, the hope of their being selected to join the Second estate by lottery, and, of course, the criminal acts of their peers. They don't have any housing at all, the best they can hope for is living in the old berths, staterooms and holds of the rusting freighters that brought their ancestors to the planet 500 years ago.


We hear from three perspectives - Chatine, the daughter of a gangster in the Third Estate who has taken it upon herself to con her way to getting a ticket off-planet, Marcellus, the grandson of the ranking member of the Second Estate and an officer in the regime, and Alouette, a young girl raised in a secret refuge that protects the history of the First World and the chronicles of Laterre. In the centuries since the founding of Laterre, people became so reliant on technology that they forgot how to read. Even the upper classes. Which, OK, sure.


The authors are effective world-builders, and the various elements of their source material are integrated in a plot that keeps up its pace over almost 600 pages. Of course, it's not the whole plot - there will be a sequel. What I'm most interested in though is what classic works they might use to build up the other planets of the system. Hints of the others include a English planet ruled by a mad queen, a German empire and a Frank Lloyd Wright reference (Usonia)? Probably American. I'm hoping for an American planet to involve a gay teen odd-couple signing on to a space-boat where the captain is obsessed with hunting the space-whale that took his leg. 


System Divine


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